The North-East of India has long been established as a must-visit destination on a traveler’s itinerary map. Complete with its artistic cultural heritage and natural charming beauty, this place promises to offer some real surprises as one of the most favorite tourist destinations. The land of seven sisters, this place mesmerizes you every time you land here;- from the mysterious sculptures filled with Unokoti / Debtamura, the fun-filled adventure in the crazy forest of Kaziranga National Park to the corner of the only floating national park on the earth – Keibul Lamjao, misty Cherapunjee.
Be it the cleanest village in the whole of Asia – Mawlynnong; or the journey to the World’s largest river island –Majuli, North East offers us some of the breathtaking places with its diverse and divine places different from all others and will never cease to amaze you with its beauty.
Nilanjan Chatterjee, an electrical engineer by profession who loves to travel and explore different places and fulfills his passion for photography, presents something very uncommon. In the modern era of Departmental stores, e-business and online shopping, he wants us to experience this market – Ima Keithal.
So what’s so different about this market – Let’s find out!
Conventionally, a market is usually a place where the common man can sell, buy and make a bargain. Ima Keithal is the 500-year-old market, situated in the heart of the city Imphal – Manipur and reportedly the world’s only all-women run marketplace. In Manipuri language – “Ima” means Mother and “Keithal” stands for market, hence this place is also known as Mother’s Market. With its variety of offering in terms of textiles, fruits, vegetables, spices, handicrafts, Ima Keithal is a trading hub in the heart of Manipur with more than 5000 women traders manning its stalls making it the largest all women market in Asia.
History of Ima Keithal :
Started somewhere around 16th century, this market is always been the important meeting point and traders hub of Manipur. In ancient times when the Manipuri forced labor system, sent men for cultivation in faraway places or to fight wars on the battlefield, their women stayed back in the villages to take care of the rest of the family, work on their own in paddy fields and sell the produce at the market to earn money. During the British era, the administration imposed the aggressive commercial reforms in Manipur, which led to the famous – Nupi Lan (Women’s war) in 1939.
The brave women of Manipur opposed furiously and defended their market fiercely. For them, it was important to protect the symbol of Imphal and they continued to play a major role in this. The land of celebrated warriors, famous for their participation in the fight for independence has given rise to truly empowered women, who can fight with the monopolistic traders and survive successfully with women empowerment in an equal society.
Post-independence, this market has become the symbol of cultural identity of Manipur, the place for exchanging socio-political ideas, the center of daily economy and trading, and many other important happenings.
As time changed, there were changes in this marketplace, initially operating from an open shed; this market has now been shifted to the newly constructed building, supported by the Imphal Municipal Corporation.
Even though there were major damages that happened during the 2016 earthquake, this place has overcome all hurdles and retained its value; and the impact of this market in the history of Manipur is intact.
About women who run the market:
The market is run only by married women, mostly widows and single mothers. With colorful stalls in this multi-ethnic marketplace, this tradition continues from generation to generation from one Manipuri woman to the next. These women, some of whom travel long distances pay merely Rs. 40 per month for a small stall to operate from this prestigious place of Imphal.
Mostly the older ladies and Grandmas come down here for daily trading, young mothers are left at home for household activities and to take care of the kids.
Dressed impeccably in traditional phaneks and innaphis and their forehead marked with the sandalwood, these beautiful ladies sit down to sell almost everything from daily vegetables, fruits, different types of fishes, handmade jewelry, clay pots, metal products, to Manipuri handicrafts, utensils, woolen and normal fabrics in this market, run by around more than 4000 women.
These women have formed unions to manage the market and support the credit system for the traders to help them in the business. The set rules and regulations of the market help them in the smooth running and are responsible for everything!
The buzzing market of Imphal :
The vibe, inside the market, is something that attracts your attention and engages your mind within moments, the cacophony of buyers and traders, the gossips and laughter sessions among the lovely ladies, their leisure time spent playing the game of Ludo or crafting their handmade products, exchanging views during the group readings of local newspapers, this market plays a special role in each of these queen’s life!
Unique in every sense, this market and the women running the show are truly independent. There are numerous small tea-shops/rice hotels operated by these women inside the market where a buyer or a seller can enjoy the tasty food. Even exchange option of currency is available with a minimal percentage of commission.
Nilanjan found language as the only hurdle since these women were not very fluent with Hindi or English. But with his photo clicking sessions and capturing the expressions, emotion and feelings of these women was a major breakthrough challenge. The women could not contain their excitement with their happiness and gratitude.
Imphal’s Ima Keithal continues to be touted as Asia’s largest women-only market representing the life and the ethos of Manipur!
About Nilanjan :
Nilanjan explains that exploring a market that is run entirely by women gave him the opportunity to experience their unique culture and vibrancy. This beautiful symbol of Manipur stands a perfect example of gender equality and economic growth of this country.
Apart from cricket and book reading, Nilanjan loves exploring new places and clicking pictures. He has a special interest in old architecture, ruins, history, uncommon things and landscapes.
You can follow him :
The Uncommon Box wishes that his passion for photography leads him to bigger and better opportunities!!
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